Lincoln Drill Hall may be forced to close its doors for good, following a unanimous decision by the City of Lincoln Council to cut future funding.
The executive committee of the council decided Wednesday evening to stop the centre’s annual grant, which had already been decreasing for several years.
The report prepared for the council meeting describes the Drill Hall as having a “lack of financial viability”, and Councillor Ric Metcalfe, leader of the city council, reiterated this in a video released two days before the decision.
“The Drill Hall trustees haven’t yet demonstrated to the council that they have a sustainable financial plan to secure the future of the Drill Hall going forward,” he says in the video, “So there’s a big question mark about the Drill Hall’s ability to survive even with the council’s grant.”
Phil Hamlyn Williams, chair of trustees at the Lincoln Arts Trust, which looks after the Drill Hall, said the announcement could be the final blow to the venue.
“The Drill Hall, as it has been run for the last 16 years, definitely can’t continue,” he said, adding that a plan was put forward to the council to heavily trim the organisation.
Instead, all future funding was revoked in a unanimous decision from the six councillors present.
“I think we’re just desperately sad that even that pared down version can’t be supported,” said Mr Williams, who felt for the members of staff employed at the centre, as well as those who “look to the Drill Hall as their home”.
“The core work for the community is the work we do for people with disabilities, for children and young people, and for older, lonely people,” he said.
“We do a monthly disco for people with disabilities, who come from all over the county, and it is a moment of simple, pure joy that will now disappear.”
The Drill Hall has seen a steady drop in funding from the council since 2013, when it received £277,000, along with an agreement that the figure would rise over the next five years.
Instead, it fell, and the centre was given just £187,000 for 2020/21.
Mr Williams called the decision “desperately short-sighted” – a sentiment shared by many members of the public.
In comments left under the council’s announcement on Facebook, local residents heavily criticised the move, describing it as “awful”, “disgusting” and “embarrassing”.
Howell Thomas, the course coordinator for Production Arts at Lincoln College and a professional lighting designer who’s worked with the Drill Hall previously, said losing the centre will leave a vacuum.
“The black hole that would be created within so many communities and groups that use the space is just huge. It’s life-changing to these people.”
He added that putting the Drill Hall on paper doesn’t reflect its true nature.
“The value that the Drill Hall brings to the community is just immeasurable. There’s no way to quantify it, because you can’t quantise the feelings and the security and the joy that it brings to the people who walk through the doors.
“You can’t put that on a spreadsheet,” he said.
Though the immediate cuts have been implemented by the city council, they come after years of austerity, as the central government has consistently reduced local councils’ funding.
Ultimately, as Mr Williams from Lincoln Arts Trust notes, “if you haven’t got the money, you can’t give it out”.
On top of the impact on the city, he believes the cuts could have a ripple effect on the arts in the whole of Lincolnshire.
He said: ”Lincoln Drill Hall has built up really as a centre of expertise, and so other theatres and venues throughout the county look to us to advise them and help them out. That will go.”
“For all the children and young people who’ve participated in our theatre groups, that opportunity disappears. You’ve just seen them over the years grow as people, grow in confidence.
“And our beloved pantomime and summer production, the young people involved in that, I just don’t know what’s going to happen to them. It’s desperately sad.”
Mr Thomas from Lincoln College shared a similar view, and emphasised the positive effects the arts can bring to young people.
“You can see things like well-being and anxiety is a growing problem, and the arts, not just for people who really desperately need it, is so important for that,” he said.
“I think that Britain will be very much disadvantaged and negatively affected by the loss of arts and these wonderful community spaces.”
The current funding period expires in early 2021, after which the Drill Hall will no longer receive the council’s grant.